Amazon. Airbnb. Snap Inc. Groupon. 23andMe. While these companies wouldn’t initially seem to have much in common, they were in fact all started by non-tech founders. Jeff Bezos of Amazon initially worked on Wall Street before founding the billion-dollar company; Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia of Airbnb – as well as Evan Spiegal of Snap Inc. – were design school graduates; Andrew Mason of Groupon graduated with a music degree; and 23andMe Co-founders Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey both worked within the healthcare field.
We’ve previously discussed the importance of a startup’s founders and management team. As the management team will be making the major decisions concerning a startup’s future – and how investors’ money is used – Investors typically consider the team’s experience, connections, and passion prior to making an investment. This can be tricky for a founder who doesn’t hold ample experience within the field; however, there are many reasons why you should not count out these non-tech startup founders.
- They may have transferable skills related to running a business. While some VCs or angel investors may only be interested in startups led by developers, others are not – in large part, because many non-tech startup founders can still be skilled in management, design, product/project management, and more. Once a minimum viable product is built, these additional skills will be in high demand through funding, customer acquisition, and growth. In addition, many non-tech startup founders, while they may not know how to write code, will understand what components are needed to build a platform, so they are still able to effectively communicate with developers.
- They can bring a vital understanding of the industry. Finding product-market fit is imperative to being able to “sell” your startup to customers and investors. Without finding a suitable market for your product, there’s no hope in selling it. Non-tech startup founders may not completely understand highly technical software languages, but they can still have useful industry knowledge that can be valuable when coming up with new ways to solve customer problems, expanding service lines, pitching to VCs, or knowing where to focus marketing efforts.
- They can find technical help. A strong operations, software, and development team can support building a robust and scalable product. But an early-stage startup doesn’t have to immediately hire an enterprise agency for assistance. There are online resources and independent contractors available that may be more appropriate. Finding a technical Co-founder or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) can be of additional assistance as it not only gives non-tech startup founders a trustworthy resource but can also bring additional commercial acumen and an understanding of why the platform helps the customer. Just speaking with the overall team can help non-tech founders understand how developers think when facing a problem.
Keep in mind that some things speak louder than technical experience – things like revenue, recurring customers, burn rate, and user traction can say volumes about how well a business is meeting customers’ needs. By focusing on their strengths – and tapping into others’ experience, insights, and valuable advice – non-tech startup founders can still disrupt longstanding legacy systems, introduce new products, and grow within the tech space.
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